What is Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)?
In the agricultural industry, words are often used interchangeably which can be confusing to any new grower looking to start their own crop production. Here is a brief overview of how Autogrow defines some of the most commonly used terms.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)
CEA is the growing of crops while controlling certain aspects of the environment in order to reduce pest or disease, increase efficiencies, be more sustainable, increase yield or save costs. At Autogrow, we look at the environment and what can be controlled through automation including temperature, humidity, light, carbon dioxide, nutrients and more. Using technology and data, crops can be grown for food, nutraceutical or pharmaceutical applications.
Types of Growing Environments
Depending on country or region or type of grower, different words are used to describe the same thing. Here is a short description of the different growing environments for CEA:
Indoor Growing / Indoor Farming
Indoor growing and indoor farming refer to crop production that utilizes supplemental lighting, such LED lights instead of sunlight, and gives the ability to control the environment. This type of controlled environment agriculture can include rooms, warehouses, containers, factories and other converted indoor spaces not usually created for growing crops.
Vertical farming is crop production that uses the vertical space. Plants can be stacked horizontally or in tall towers. This style of farming is great for small spaces like shipping containers or other high-density spaces as it requires less land to cultivate.
A greenhouse is a glass or polycarbonate structure that uses sunlight in crop production. Variables like temperature, humidity and sunlight need to be considered carefully when growing produce in greenhouses, particularly during the summer months.
Protected cropping refers to when crops that are grown outdoors with some protection against the elements, e.g. under hoop houses, tunnel houses or canopies. Pest control is harder to manage as the crops are exposed to the elements, however the protection can offer value when it comes to rain, hail and frost.
Types of Growing Methods
Within a crop production environment, plants can be grown using different methods. By far the most popular method is hydroponics. Here are a few types of growing methods you can use in controlled environment agriculture.
Hydroponics is the growing of plants without soil as a medium while delivering water, nutrients and oxygen. The plants can be grown in a variety of mediums like sand, gravel, rockwool, coconut fiber and oasis cubes. It is a great sustainable way of growing with water - expect potential savings between 70% and 90% depending on the type of crop and your set-up. There are different types of hydroponic systems including:
- N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique)
- Drip System
- Ebb & Flow (also known as Flood & Drain)
- Water Culture (also known as Deep Water Culture)
Crops grown using this method include microgreens, leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs and medicinal cannabis.
NOTE: The global hydroponics market was valued at USD 6.9b in 2016 and forecasted to grow to 12bn by 2025. (See more)
Aeroponics is the growing of plants without soil and using little water. The roots of the plant are suspended in air and sprayed with a nutrient and water solution. Generally, the roots are in an enclosed environment to ensure the nutrient mist is captured by the root structures. Aeroponics is typically used within greenhouses, using sunlight as the main light source with supplemental lighting if needed. Aeroponics has been noted as the most water sustainable type of growing, using 90% less water than some hydroponic systems, which are already considered to be sustainable themselves.
Aquaponics is a method of controlled environment agriculture that uses a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics. In a flourishing ecosystem, the waste from the fish (ammonium and urea) and the bacteria in the system deliver all the required nutrients to the plants. Aquaponics relies on fast growing fish (tilapia, perch, catfish, trout, etc.) in order to supply the needs of the plants and can be set up indoors as they don’t require soil. Water can then be recycled back to the fish. Each species nurtures the other with no requirement for chemical fertilizers.
Fogponics (also known as mistponics)
Fogponics has been described as the next phase of aeroponic technology. Using the same basic premise of suspending the root system in the air in an enclosed environment and supplying the plant with water and nutrients, fogponics uses droplets that are practically vapor. The nutrient-rich fog is delivered to the stems, leaves and roots for faster and better absorption.